The Nutcracker, Savannah style 

The Savannah Danse Theatre is putting a new twist on that holiday classic, The Nutcracker.

“It’s going to be set in 1912 in Savannah,” says artistic director Suzanne Braddy. “In our version, the Christmas party is being held at the famous Gingerbread House.”

The ballet will be presented Saturday, Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Lucas Theatre. Tickets are $16 for adults and $12 for students. Call 525-5050.

It’s only fitting that this version of The Nutcracker is set in Savannah. “We’re a local dance company, with all our own dancers, scenery and costumes, all together here,” Braddy says. “It’s our production without bringing anyone else in.”

With its beauty and history, Savannah is a perfect setting for the ballet, Braddy says.

“Being raised here, I’ve always been fascinated with Savannah’s history. Savannah’s history has been impressed on me the last couple of years. People like to connect with what was happening in Savannah all those years ago.”

The original Nutcracker is based on the story The Nutcracker and the King of Mice, by E.T.A. Hoffman. French author Alexander Dumas later revised the story, and it is his version that choreographer Marius Petipa used as the inspiration for his ballet.

The story is set on Christmas Eve at the Stahlbaum house. The Stahlbaums are hosting their annual Christmas party, and as a gift, Clara is given a a beautiful nutcracker.

The nutcracker is such a hit that Clara’s brother, Fritz, becomes jealous and breaks it. It is repaired, and Clara sneaks back to the Christmas tree to check on it, falling asleep with it in her arms.

She then dreams about an army of mice, led by the fierce Mouse King. The Nutcracker awakens and leads an army of toy soldiers into a battle with the mice.

Petipa commissioned the great composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to write the music in 1891. The first presentation of the ballet took place in 1892 at the Mariinsky Theater in Russia, home of the Kirov Ballet.

The ballet was first performed in America by Ballet Russe in 1940.The first American production was produced by the San Francisco Ballet.

This is the seventh Nutcracker that Braddy has staged. “The story and the music are presented exactly as they were written,” she says.

However, the costumes and sets clearly reflect 19th century Savannah. “This is a work in progress,” Braddy says.

“We hope to have guest cameos each year,” she says. “This year, our guest cameo is Paula Deen.”

The founder and owner of the Lady & Sons restaurant, host of a popular television cooking show and author of several cookbooks, Deen was suggested by Braddy and happily accepted by the dance school’s board.

“Everyone who thinks of Savannah thinks of Paula Deen,” Braddy says. “She’ll be seen looking at the cake in the beginning of the ballet when the maids bring it out.”

Each year, the production grows. “I have my own drops,” Braddy says. “We build on the drops. It takes a good six months to a year to prepare for it.”

This year, there are 120 people in the cast who range in age from 3 to adult.

“The three-year-olds are the snow flurries,” Braddy says.

As the students grow and progress, they take on other roles in The Nutcracker. “My greatest enjoyment is seeing these kids go through the years with different roles to become young women and young gentlemen,” Braddy says. “Some of them go on to college to further study dance.”

Braddy started the school 17 years ago. She herself studied ballet in Savannah with Rosalie Cutler and Madeline T. Walker and at the Hilton Head Dance Theater with Karena Brock-Carlyle, a prima ballerina with the American Ballet Theater.

The Savannah Danse Theatre recently relocated to 115 Charlotte Rd. in the Whitemarsh Plaza. The school is growing quickly, and will feature guest artists for workshops next summer.

“I originally decided to give myself a five-year trial period to see if I liked teaching,” Braddy says. “After that, I realized how much I did care for kids.”

Even after seven years, Braddy enjoys putting the ballet together.

“In the summer, I say I won’t have the energy to do it,” she says. “Then somehow the change of the seasons happens and I am swept up in it.” w


Savannah Danse Theatre performs The Nutcracker ballet on Saturday, Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Lucas Theatre. Tickets are $16 for adults and $12 for students, and can be purchased at the Trustees Theater Box Office. For tickets, call 525-5050.



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Linda Sickler

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Connect Today 10.22.2016

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